In the medieval village of Alfriston, close to the historic town of Lewes and to both Glyndebourne Opera House and Charleston, you will find a Grade II 15th century building. Now known as The Star, this hotel opened after extensive renovation by mother and daughter duo, Olga and Alex Polizzi in 2021.
A hotel oozing with history
Records show that the oldest part of the building was constructed in 1483 as a private house for John Archer. His family were Exeter merchants, cloth traders and tavern keepers and his father was several times Mayor of that town. He then bought the adjoining property on the corner of Star Lane and the High Street. Sometime thereafter, he opened The Star Inn as a local tavern. It is said that the tavern was used by monks and pilgrims en-route from Battle Abbey to the shrine of St Richard, patron saint of Sussex, at Chichester Cathedral. The inn is steeped in fascinating history and was known as ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ until at least 1520.
Olga Polizzi stated, “My home is in this part of the world and I’ve always longed for the opportunity to open a hotel in Sussex. When The Star Inn came on the market, Alex and I were immediately interested in the project. We want it to be an integral part of the community. To provide a welcoming environment for all, from walkers to opera goers.”.
The Star Inn was once a Heritage hotel part of the Forte hotel empire. This was owned by Olga Polizzi’s father, Charles Forte. Olga and her husband have had a house nearby for many years, and love walking both The Downs and The Seven Sisters. They love the culture that East Sussex has to offer. So when the hotel came on the market in 2019, she took the opportunity to buy it with her daughter Alex, and started extensive renovations.
A massive transformation with thoughtful details
Transforming the hotel included combining some of the smaller bedrooms into thirty larger bedrooms. In the more modern part of the building, there is the addition of floor to ceiling windows, creating lots of natural light. Many of the rooms in the new wing, built in the Sixties, have small private patios or Juliet balconies. One junior suite has its own terrace. There is also an internal courtyard in the central part of the modern building.
The Heritage Suite, on the first floor of the oldest part of the hotel, The Inn, is directly above the bar and has beautiful oriel windows looking out over the High Street. Its bathroom has a freestanding bath and a fireplace.
The bedrooms have been designed in Olga Polizzi’s style, using contemporary furniture and local antiques. Plus English wallpapers and fabrics by Richard Smith, with splashes of vibrant colours and textures. Some of the furniture in the newer Sixties wing is by Julian Chichester. Other pieces are individual one-offs bought locally.
Good hospitality is also key to The Star
The kitchen serves simple, unfussy dishes with a focus on clarity of flavour. The everchanging highly seasonal menus utilise the abundance of exceptional Sussex produce.
At the heart of the hotel is a large 60 cover restaurant. It has a striking black and white stencilled Elizabethan design on the floor, painted by local artist Amanda Lawrence. The restaurant also has its own inner courtyard, created as a lovely spot for warm weather dining. A Mediterranean feel is crafted by the interesting climbing plants. There are lots of terracotta pots and unique trellises made by the local blacksmith. China used in the restaurant has been designed and decorated in England by Gabriella Shaw, and features leaves from native English trees.
Celebrating the best of English leisure
The 15th century front of the hotel, known as The Inn, opens onto the High Street. It provides relaxed all day dining from 11am until 6pm, with local beers, open fires and oak beams. Enjoy a drink or a cup of tea, or play one of the board games in the Library. This space is a sanctuary for guests to relax in. Its bookshelves are packed with poetry, short stories and novels by British authors, and there is a section dedicated to local history, flora and fauna. The library has a secret door that opens onto the restaurant.
Weddings, parties and small events will be held in the atmospheric Pilgrims’ Room on the first floor of The Inn. It has oak beams, oriel windows overlooking the high street and can cater to 50 guests dining. The Star is available for two day exclusive use weddings. They have a licence to host civil ceremonies, making it the ideal venue for smaller weddings. Ceremonies are held in The Pilgrims’ Room, and wedding breakfasts for up to 70 guests are hosted in The Dining Room.
Space for the whole family to enjoy the hotel
There are eight sets of interconnecting rooms on the ground and first floors, ideal for families with children. Extra beds (for children up to age 12) are charged at £50 per night and there is no charge for a cot. The hotel provides high chairs, bottle warmers and emergency nappies. There is a children’s menu available throughout the day until 6pm in The Inn and The Dining Room.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome in many of the rooms, at a charge of £25. We will offer dog blankets and dog bowls for our four-legged friends.
Things to see and do in the area
Glyndebourne has long been a favourite for opera lovers, and the summer season never fails to impress. Take a walk around Charleston Farmhouse and its exceptional garden, the hub of the Bloomsbury group. Charleston has an excellent calendar of art exhibitions. In May, there is Charleston Festival that offers a star-studded line up of artists, writers and performers in conversation and performance.
Rathfinny wine estate is moments away from The Star. It is ideally located for those drawn to a winery tour, wine tasting, and delicious lunch with a glass of English sparkling, overlooking the vineyard.
Walking and cycling around the Cuckmere Valley is a great way to take in the incredible surrounding landscape of the Seven Sisters and the South Downs. The hotel can recommend cycle hire, walking routes, and can even provide a rucksack picnic for guests to take on a day out. For those feeling a little more adventurous, there is paddle boarding and kayaking available on the Cuckmere River close to the hotel.
For families with young children, Drusillas Park is on the edge of Alfriston and is a must as it has a zoo. Children can even feed the penguins, and a popular theme park. Middle Farm with its play barn, farm shop and farm animals for the children to meet, also provides an excellent diversion for little ones.
The Star are trying hard to reduce our carbon footprint by minimising food waste; cutting down the amount sent to laundry. Also, banning all single use plastics and encouraging suppliers to do the same, adopting biodegradable cane sugar refillable bathroom products and using glass refillable water bottles throughout our operations. Website hosting is carbon neutral and electricity is from renewable sources.
Good to know about The Star
Alfrinston is about halfway between Lewes and Eastbourne. The Star Hotel is only two hours by car from London, or thirty-five minutes drive from Brighton via the A27. The closest railway station is at Seaford, around 4 miles away. There are regular service to Brighton and Lewes, with onward connections to London. There are thirty rooms and suites in total, many of which have terraces. Rooms are from £230 per night (B&B). Children and dogs are welcome.
Olga Polizzi is Deputy Chairman and Director of Design at Rocco Forte Hotels. A company she helped her brother Rocco Forte create. It owns well known, historic hotels worldwide including Brown’s in London, the Hotel de Russie in Rome, the Astoria in St Petersburg and the Amigo in Brussels.
Olga is the owner of The Polizzi Collection, a group of three elegant hotels across the South of England. These include Hotel Endsleigh in Tavistock, Devon, Hotel Tresanton in St Mawes, Cornwall. Plus, The Star, Alfriston, East Sussex, her most recent acquisition with her daughter Alex.
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